Trail running season in the Swiss Alps is here…

Barry Cox, 20th June 2017

Trail running season is well under way here in the Swiss Alps. Over the past three weeks, there have been a number of races in the pristine mountains surrounding Verbier which Bramble Ski team members have participated in. See below for our short race report on each.

Droit du Catogne, Sembrancher – Le Catogne pasture

This was the eighth trail running of the Droit du Catogne, which unofficially opens Le Catogne for the summer hill walking season. Le Catogne, with its summit at 2,598m, is one of our valley’s most renowned accessible-to-all mountains. Its dome shape is one of the first mountains that you notice driving towards Verbier, looming large over Sembrancher to the right-hand side. Reaching its summit takes some effort, but is doable for most levels of walkers, and the reward of incredible panoramic views over the Mont Blanc massif, Lac Leman, the Bernese Alps, and Verbier at the top, is worth every drop of sweat lost in getting there.

The race itself stays on the lower half of the mountain, with the start in Sembrancher (700m) and the finish at the refuge just above tree level at the Alpage de Catogne (1,800m). It is a short race of 5.6km so practically a sprint by trail running terms, but the real effort is in the steep climb of 1,100 vertical metres over this distance.

The peaceful forest trail is very steep in the early part of the race and works its way around, and then up and over the spiny rock face that protrudes at an angle down towards Sembrancher. Passing over Pas de la Face which crosses this defining feature, the intensity levels off to a more moderate incline. The final 100m are flat before crossing the finishing line alongside the cow barn that marks the alpage (pasture).

It’s unusual to finish a race up on the mountain, but the organisers facilitate a festive affair with snacks and cold drinks on offer, including the obligatory mid-morning vin blanc of course! After a short recuperation, it was time to turn around and retrace our footsteps from whence we came … unless you thought ahead, in which case you would have just launched into the skies and reconvened back in Sembrancher for a last refreshing cold one (see the video clip of our friend Anthony who did just that).

Like many of the local races, there was a race for kids following the main event, which as always had a high turnout.

Next year’s race: May 26, 2018

Tour de Bagnes, Le Chable – Verbier – L’ourtier – Le Chable

The Tour du Val de Bagnes is Bramble Ski’s annual internal spring rivalry calendar event. The race is a relay event with three legs.

The first leg is for specialist climbers following the old road from Le Châble (850m) to Verbier’s Place Centrale (1,495m), 5km in distance climbing 645m. The second leg is suited to road runners and follows the Route de Soleil steadily descending down to Lourtier (965m) a course of 7,7km with a net descent of 530m. The third and final leg is the longest of the course and is an 8,2km varied single track course returning to Le Châble over varied ascents and descents returning to Le Châble’s central square.

Normally we have two or three teams entered into the event, but unfortunately this year due to holidays, we only had one team entered (Duncan, Malcolm, and Colin). Duncan tackled the uphill leg, Malcolm and his long legs coasted down to Lourtier where Colin took over and charged to the finish line.

Once again there were two kids races in which numerous Bramble offspring participated…

Next year’s event has not been diarised yet.

Trail de la Pierre a Voir, Saxon – Pierre a Voir – Col de Mine – La Tsoumaz – Saxon

The Pierre a Voir is another landmark clearly viewable from the resort of Verbier. Looking up above the Patier neighbourhood, to the looker’s left of the Savoleyres lift there are a series of rocky outcrops at the top of the ridge, one of these is a clear thumb that stands taller than the others. This is the Pierre a Voir (literally translated … the Stone to See). And from up here there is certainly much to see, the Val de Bagnes and its surrounding wild peaks on one side, the Rhone Valley and its alluvial plain with rich agricultural fields and the Bernese Alps standing behind it on the other.

The Trail de la Pierre a Voir starts and finishes in Saxon (533m) in the Rhone Valley between Martigny and Sion. From this quaint little village, the trail climbs upwards to the Pierre a Voir levelling out at 2,420m. From here, and with Verbier now in sight, the trail descends to Croix de Coeur (at the top of the Savoleyres lift station) before climbing again along the ridge line through the avalanche barriers to Col des Mines. From here the trail crosses over into Vallon d’Arbi, renowned in the winter for its itinerary ski run that descends to La Tsoumaz.

From Col des Mines it is a punishing and relentless descent of 1,800m through La Tsoumaz and onwards back to Saxon. With an overall distance of 34km and 2,850m of vertical, the race is the first trail race of the season in the canton of Valais presenting a course in excess of 30km. In addition to the punishing course, the heat this year was certainly a factor sapping the body of all available energy.

It is a stunning trail running course and a good early test of the mettle in your legs.

There is no date for next year’s event yet.

There are numerous other events in the calendar for Bramble trail running. See the events one, or a couple of us, will be competing in below …

Trail Verbier St Bernard 

This is Verbier’s very own ultra trail running event. The Trail VSB features four event options: the X-Alpine (111km and 8,400m of vertical … completed by Colin in 2015); the Traversee (61km and 4,100m of vertical); the Liddes to Verbier event (29km and 2,500m of vertical) and; the X=Direct, a sprint from Le Chable to Verbier (6km with 670m of vertical. There is also the X-Alpine relay which Colin and I will both be participating in. This event shares the effort of the X-Alpine course across two runners. Sunday again has a race for the children.

July 7, 8 and 9.

Trophee de Combins 

Two separate races (the Combins trophy and the Grand trophy). The Combins trophy is one of the oldest races in Valais, and will witness its 51st running this year. The race departs Fionnay climbing 1,180m finishing at Cabin Panossière, some 7.2km in distance. The bigger brother event, the Grand Trophy is in its 10th year and is a more challenging round-trip event 21km in distance and covering 1,495m of climbing from Fionnay to Col des Otanes (Panossière) and back.

August 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Matterhorn Ultraks  

The Matterhorn is an inspiring sight, and to run on trails in its shadow is expected to be truly invigorating. Like the other big races of the season, the Matterhorn Ultraks features a number of distance options (16km, 30km and 40km). There is also a kids race to involve the younger generation.

August 25 and 26.

Swiss Peaks 

This is the inaugural trail running of the mighty Swiss Peaks trail race. Again there are a number of distance options (12km women’s race, 30km, 45km and 80km). But the main event is one of the toughest courses in the Swiss trail running season covering 170km and 11,300m of vertical. Duncan, Colin and I have signed up for the race, but we will have to see how our preparations unfold. It’s a daunting task, and speaking purely for myself is an event where I am shrouded in uncertainty.

September 8, 9 and 10.

See you out on the trails …

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